BARCELONA, ROME: Barcelona captain Lionel Messi would be “thrilled” if Neymar returned to the Catalan side but insisted they could still win trophies without the Brazilian.
In an interview with the Catalan newspaper Sport this week, Messi said the return of Neymar, who was at Barca from 2013 and 2017 when he left for Paris Saint-Germain, could only strengthen the Spanish champions.
“I would be thrilled if Neymar came back,” said the Argentine.
“I understand that not everyone agrees. That’s normal after everything that happened around Ney, the way in which he left, the way he abandoned us. “But when you look at the sporting angle, for me Neymar is one of the best players in the world and obviously would improve our chances of getting the results we want.”
The summer transfer window saw an on-off soap opera surrounding the 27-year-old’s apparent desire to leave PSG, who paid a world record €222 million ($264 million at the time) in 2017, with Barcelona and Real Madrid both linked.
Ultimately he stayed in the French capital, at least for the time being.
“I am not disappointed,” said Messi. “I would have liked it if he had come and been with us but, as I have said, we have an exceptional squad to challenge for every title, even without him.”
Messi denied reports he had used his influence to try and force the Barcelona board to push through the deal.
“Here, it is not me that gives the orders,” he said. “We never said that he had to be brought in. We didn’t make any demands.”
“I don’t know if the club (Barcelona) wanted it to happen. What I do know is that Neymar really wanted it. But I understand it is very difficult to negotiate with PSG.”
Barcelona President Josep Maria Bartomeu said on Friday Neymar “did everything” to force through a return to the Camp Nou in the close season, but his club could “not meet” the French champions’ demands.
Man United, Arsenal castoffs find new homes in Serie A
Romelu Lukaku, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Aaron Ramsey, Alexis Sanchez, Chris Smalling.
The names read like a team sheet from a recent Manchester United-Arsenal matchup.
Only now, those same players will be meeting in Italy’s Serie A.
Lukaku and Sanchez left United for Inter Milan, Ramsey went from Arsenal to Juventus, while Mkhitaryan and Smalling were each loaned to Roma from Arsenal and United, respectively.
And they were not alone in the southern migration: Of the 79 foreigners who joined Serie A in the recently concluded transfer window, 10 came from the Premier League — more than any other league.
“I was not fitting so well in English football, so I think a change was good,” said Mkhitaryan, the deadline-day signing who accepted a reduced salary with Roma.
“I’ve heard from many, many players that the Italian league is great, the football is great,” Mkhitaryan added. “The last month at Arsenal I was not getting pleasure, so that’s why I said it was better to come to Roma and to get happy and to get the pleasure from playing football again.”
While the likes of Lukaku, Mkhitaryan and Sanchez each fell out of favor with their clubs in England, they are each still in their primes.
So this influx is nothing like when David Beckham was loaned twice to AC Milan toward the end of his career, or when Ashley Cole showed up at Roma at the age of 33 with his abilities waning.
Very few English players make the move to Serie A but the ones that do — such as former England goalkeeper Joe Hart, who spent 2016-17 on loan with Torino — tend to have harbored an affinity for the more tactical and defense-oriented Italian league.
“In England we don’t have many players that do go abroad. I think I’ve always had a desire deep down to experience this and to have an opportunity,” said Smalling, the center back who was dropped from England’s squad ahead of last year’s World Cup. “It’s something that I really look forward to and I don’t want to live my life with (any) regrets.
“Serie A has always been a goal of mine to play in one day, because as a defender if you get the chance to experience Serie A you want to do it,” Smalling added.